Legend Zico in danger of losing his lustre

John Duerden John Duerden

Just nine months ago, Kiatisuk Senamuang was the toast of ASEAN football.

He had led Thailand to a successive AFF Suzuki Cup triumph and, at the same adoring Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, he had been unlucky not to defeat Australia in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in the final stage of the Road to Russia.

Now, he has resigned from two jobs in six months and his reputation as the brightest coach in the region is under threat.

Zico’s decision-making in his successful career was as smooth as the best Massaman curry but if a brace of unexpected departures becomes a hat-trick then the 44 year-old has problems.

You didn’t need hindsight to see that the decision to coach Thai Premier League team Port FC in June was a gamble, to put it politely. Here was the acclaimed Zico joining a team that pined for mid-table mediocrity. Port had become something of a yo-yo club and not an especially well-run one at that with coaches who last longer than a year as rare as a trophy in the club’s cabinet.

For a coach who should have had the pick of jobs in Thailand and the region, plumping for Port after leaving Thailand was like Pep Guardiola joining Crystal Palace after saying goodbye to Bayern Munich. It was always going to be interesting to see how it panned out but there was always a feeling that there were higher-profile jobs to be had.

In the end, it took three months and just one win from ten league games – with that coming against league strugglers Thai Honda Ladkrabang. That is always going to put the pressure on in Thailand and high-profile Chairperson Nualphan Lamsan is not known for her patience.

There were rumours, as there often is when results do not go well, of interference behind-the-scenes.

Zico showed that he is ready to walk away if all was not well. Despite taking Thailand to the final stage of World Cup qualification for the first time since 2002, he resigned in March following crticism from FA boss Somyot Poonpanmuong who lamented losing to the likes of Japan and Saudi Arabia.

After losing to BEC Tero Sasana last weekend, Thai Port fans echoed some of Somyot’s criticism and Kiatisuk responded if his team lost against Chonburi in midweek, he would resign. They did and so he did.

There were moments of promise during his short spell with decent performances against Buriram United and Bangkok Glass, enough to suggest that given time and cash in the transfer market, progress could be made. Now we will never know.

For Zico there is much to think about but there is one positive. The spell was short enough to forget if the next one goes well. There is still plenty of credit in the coaching account from his time with the national team. Follow this brief spell of failure with another lengthy one full of success and all will be well.

While the Port post will not define his career, it does add to worries over his record as a club coach. His record in the Thai League with Chonburi, Chula United and Bangkok – as well as Hoang Ahn Gia Lai in Vietnam – is not as consistently impressive as his time in charge of Thailand.

It goes without saying then that his next job is vital. Going to Port was a mistake, he can’t afford another. Perhaps a move back to the international arena would be best.

Vietnam is an option. The country is close to his football heart but more importantly, the Golden Stars are looking for a new coach. What could be a better way of showing Thai football that he is still one of the coaching top dogs by taking the region’s number two national team to pole position. It could well be that other national teams in Southeast Asia will also be looking for a new pair of hands at the helm.

Written in the stars?

If he is to stay in club football then waiting until the end of the season to see what is available is best. There will be plenty of big jobs available in leagues all around Southeast Asia and he does not have to focus just on Thailand.

The priority is to choose a job that gives time and control, if such a thing exists. And it should be a position that reflects his standing in the region and one that also gives a platform to build.

Zico is still one of the leading coaches in the region but if he makes the wrong move again, then he puts that reputation at risk. A legend as a player needs to get it right this time if he is to reach the same heights as a coach.